Student uproar puts plan on hold

[attach]3966[/attach]A proposed plan to establish an Africentric school at Oakwood Collegiate Institute has been put on hold after the community expressed opposition to the plan in late March.

The Toronto District School Board was looking into creating the city’s first Africentric school for grades 9-12. Located on St. Clair Avenue West, Oakwood was chosen as one of the proposed locations for the alternative school.

The decision to put the proposal on hold was made on March 30, one day after a contentious public consultation meeting was held in the community. According to local school trustee Maria Rodrigues about 400 people showed up, most of whom were opposed to the idea.

She, however, is supportive of the proposal.

“What is proposed is that the students at the Africentric school would be able to reach into the programs in the Oakwood stream and the kids in the Oakwood stream would be able to reach into the programs in the Africentric school, which would have the Africentric curriculum and viewpoint,” Rodrigues said days after the consultation meeting.

Rodrigues said the site was picked because 40 percent of the student body is of African heritage, it has the required amount of space, it’s convenient to get to and already offers some Africentric classes. It was also one of the first schools in Canada to establish a club celebrating black culture.

“Oakwood does have a history, having established the Afro-Canadian club many years ago,” Rodrigues said. “So there’s a special history there.”

“Many felt that the school was fine as it is and it’s very diverse and multicultural and so there’s no need for an Africentric program,” she said.

Oakwood student Zach Borzovoy said establishing a separate Africentric stream would cause problems.

“By separating it you’re just creating more segregation,” Borzovoy said. “I think there would be conflict between the students.”

Rodrigues said many alternative schools across the city are located within other schools.

“The ‘school within a school’ model works very well in over 40 alternative schools in Toronto and so this is a model that is tried and true,” she said.

The first Africentric elementary school in Toronto opened in Sheppard Public School in 2009 in an effort to encourage black students to stay in school. Currently 40 percent of students who drop out of Toronto high schools are black.

If the Africentric program at Oakwood were to go ahead, it would be the first Africentric school for students that are old enough to make their own decision to leave school.

Oakwood student Rochelle Sewell doesn’t think the program would help prevent students from leaving.

“I don’t think that that 40 percent is going to come to school just because of the fact that there’s a black teacher teaching math,” Sewell said. “At the end of the day, they don’t want to be in school so the kids that are going to come, in my opinion, are the kids that want to learn.”

Rodrigues disagrees.

“Because it would be a smaller school we would have teachers who are role models from the Africentric community and they would definitely engage with the students,” Rodrigues said. “It’s very much geared to supporting the students more so than they would be in a large high school.”